Choosing My (True Self) Religion
By: Tanya Dodd-Hise
I try to write about my childhood, but it’s difficult. Not because there was horrible abuse or anything like that, but because I wish I knew then what I know now. My parents met on a blind date in high school, married young, had their two kids, got divorced. Isn’t that how it happens? Most of my friends’ parents were together when we were in elementary school, but as we entered junior high and high school, one by one their marriages started dropping, like flies.
A main source of contention between my parents was religion. My father’s family didn’t go to church (as far as I knew). My mother, on the other hand, came from a family of Southern Baptists and Pentecostals – the very definition of fundamentalist. THIS was the influence that was drilled into me from birth. I accepted Christ into my heart at the very young age of six, believing whole-heartedly that the gift of His sacrifice was all that I would ever need.
I did the things that were expected of me. I dated boys. I messed around with boys. Sometimes I liked it; sometimes I walked through the motions. I often felt cheap and dirty – partly because my religious beliefs told me that I was less-than “Christian” for doing the things that I did, and partly because I often wished it were GIRLS that I could mess around with instead.
I remember dating “J” in high school, and all of the constant drama that surrounded our relationship. We would date for a while, then break up for a while; then get back together, then break up for a while. We did this dance throughout our junior and senior years in high school, even getting engaged at one point. After high school we attempted to live together on two different occasions, with roommates, each time ending with a horrible, explosive fight that turned physical.
When I was eighteen, we broke up and I began dating a girl (in secret) who I had met at church. She was much more open than I was, so it only lasted two weeks before I freaked out and broke it off. I remember saying that I couldn’t date her, despite how good things were between us, because it was wrong and I would go to hell unless I repented and changed myself. So what did I do? I got back together with J, and we got married six weeks later – not long after I turned nineteen. I was determined to prove to everyone – myself included – that I was NOT gay.
Neither of us had a clue about being adults, much less married ones –yet on we went. We got married in 1989 and had Nicholas in 1991; then J left at the end of 1992 after hooking up with one of my friends. At twenty-two years old, I was a divorced, single mother, and once again felt like I had let down everyone – my God, my family, my church, and my little boy.
For a little while after my divorce, I secretly dated a girl who I had known since we were young. But once again, I panicked because of how “wrong” it was, and started dating men again. I was terrified that my ex-husband would find out and take the baby away from me. I was terrified that my mother would find out and demonize me. I was terrified that God would find out and shun me from eternal life forever. These days I feel heartsick about the damage caused by religion –and religious people (and to the young minds that are entrusted to those people).
I married again in 1995 –to a man, “B” –who knew about my past and my histories with women, and seemed okay with it. We immediately started trying for a baby. It didn’t happen, even after fertility treatments, which ended with a lot of money spent and a final diagnosis of secondary infertility. I didn’t deal very well with it.
In the meantime, I had made friends with some very special women in an online chat room. I could relate to them, these (almost all) lesbian women. We would get together occasionally. I felt comfortable with them; I felt like myself with them; I felt HOME with them. But I was still very scared of the consequences of venturing into that “lifestyle”.
In late 1996, after a year and a half of failed fertility treatments, I told B that I wanted a divorce, and that I wanted him to find someone who could give him a baby. By early 1997 my divorce was final, and I began to openly date a woman. While my relationship was new and exciting, it was also scary and drama-filled. My mother reacted exactly as I thought that she would, making no effort to hide her disgust. She said that I had no business being a mother to Nicholas. Even Nicholas’s godmother threatened to take him away from me if I ever considered moving in with my girlfriend. It was awful. I spent most days regretting the fact that I had come out, and when I wasn’t with my girlfriend I was very lonely because my friends wanted nothing to do with me. I created a social plague for myself by coming out, and the self-hatred and guilt were eating away at me.
It never made sense to me that the God whom I had grown up learning about, believing and trusting in, and sharing with others would shun me and cast me into eternal hell because of the fact that I loved another woman. I still do not understand that mentality. The God that I believe in is a God of love, compassion, forgiveness, and perpetual hope. So the messages that I had received all those years about faith, hope, and love did not compute with the hatred that came from supposed “good, Christian people”.
By this time, my ex-husband B and I had been able to work and talk through some things and find our original friendship. We got an apartment together so he could spend more time with Nicholas, as he was the only “dad” that my boy had really had. I went back to college, and was now long-distance dating my girlfriend, who had moved back to her home state. In the aftermath of my losing pretty much everything and everyone, life seemed to be settling down.
B and I lived together as roommates for a while, until deciding we should give it another shot. I was perfectly happy with “us” as long as it was our friendship and our little family –but not the physical aspect. Our physical encounters were few and far between, but lo and behold! –it happened: I got pregnant again. We remarried in 1999; Noah was born in the spring of 2000.
Not too long after Noah came along, B adopted Nicholas. Both boys were now legally and emotionally his. Every time that I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, that this was not a life I could do forever, I would look at my boys. They needed a stable family. But with each passing year, I was dying a little more and more inside. I got pregnant three more times after Noah (so much for secondary infertility), and lost each one in a more traumatic way each time.
I survived the marriage as long as I could. But in early 2007, I had to tell B that, although I loved him very much, I had to be true to myself and honest with him. And that meant being able to come out and say, “I am a lesbian.”
Our (second) divorce was final in the Spring of 2008, and I vowed never to date again – men or women. There were just too many negative consequences for dating a woman, and I had no desire to date another man. Perhaps I should throw myself into work and church again –and keep on trying to pray the gay away like I had my entire life? Perhaps I should return to therapy (for the hundredth time) to figure out the genesis of my homosexual feelings, and who was to blame for them?
I did go to counseling. I devoured books about “recovering” from homosexual lifestyles and “deliverance” from homosexual feelings. I really, really believed that by praying and crying out to God to remove that facet of my life, it would be done. Right? WRONG.
There is a song that says, “Sometimes God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” This might be the anthem of my life…
[Photo Credit: Flickr member: Mykal Shaw]